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New England Patriots

Patriots offensive line fills vacancy left by Mankins

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, right, watches his players on the practice field in Foxborough, Mass., Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014. The Patriots are preparing for their opening NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday in Miami. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, right, watches his players on the practice field in Foxborough, Mass., Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014. The Patriots are preparing for their opening NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday in Miami. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Logan Mankins is with Tampa Bay and there’s a question mark at the left guard position he held for nine years with New England.

Josh Kline is listed as the starter for the Patriots after limited playing time as a rookie last season. But Coach Bill Belichick hasn’t said who will take over for Mankins, a six-time Pro Bowl player, in Sunday’s opener against the Miami Dolphins.

His former teammates are resigned to moving on without the tough leader of the offensive line.

“We’re good friends,” said right guard Dan Connolly, who filled the captain’s position vacated when Mankins was traded to the Buccaneers last week. “We all know that this job is not forever, so him leaving was sad. But I’ve moved on and we’ve got our team here and we’re preparing for our opponent this week.”

Center Ryan Wendell, left tackle Nate Solder and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer also return as starters, and backup linemen Jordan Devey, Bryan Stork and Marcus Cannon provide decent depth. So trading Mankins for Tim Wright, a pass-catching tight end the Patriots needed, and a fourth-round draft pick next year is a reasonable risk.

Tom Brady knows which players he’ll be throwing to. Now he’s waiting to see who will protect him.

“All those guys are working hard to find a spot, find a role,” he said. “When the coaches make those decisions, then that means the players have to adapt. That’s kind of the way it is and has always been here.

“However it sorts itself out, all the guys are going to be prepared to play. You could expect a certain thing to go a certain way, and then you get out there for the first play of the game and someone gets injured, and then bam, you’re trying to make adjustments on the fly. We’ve got to be prepared for everything, and I think there are always contingency plans for everybody in the lineup.”

The offensive line had a mediocre season last year. Brady was sacked 40 times, one less than his career high of 41 in his first season as a starter in 2001. The 256 yards lost by sacks was the most of his career.

And now the Patriots must replace Mankins.

“We all, each, individually, need to do our job and we know our opponent that’s in front of us,” Connolly said.

He’s been a starter the past four seasons, primarily at right guard. He also started at left guard and center when regulars at those spots were injured.

“Dan has had a real good year,” Belichick said. “He’s had a real good spring, good training camp, been out there every day. He’s been a versatile guy, as he always has. He’s always been ready to play all three spots plus contribute in the kicking game. He’s a sharp guy, works hard and had a good offseason.”

The Dolphins went through a much bigger shake-up on the offensive line with five new starters for Sunday’s game.

“Every team in the league has new players on their roster. I don’t think we should pretend that that’s anything unique to anybody,” Belichick said. “Those (Miami) guys all have experience and now they’ve been working together all through training camp and in the spring so I’m sure they’ll be ready to go.”

Patriots running back Stevan Ridley isn’t worrying about his offensive line without Mankins clearing the way.

“I love Logan to death, but Logan’s not with us anymore,” Ridley said. “We’re going to have our offensive line up there. Regardless of who’s up there we’ve got to go up there and make plays.

“Whatever we have out there, that’s what we’re rolling with and that’s what we’re 100 percent confident in, so we’re going to be fine.”

NOTES

The Patriots re-signed long snapper Danny Aiken, who was released last Saturday, and linebacker Chris White, who was cut on Sunday. Aiken is entering his fourth season as the team’s long snapper. They also re-signed quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson to the practice squad one day after releasing him from that group. Bethel-Thompson was signed by San Francisco as a rookie free agent in July 2011 and moved on to Miami and Minnesota before rejoining the 49ers last year.

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